Each year, a handful of people report that they have seen a vision of either the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ. These apparitions take a number of forms: watermarks on walls, streaks on windows, iron residue, cookware, or pita. The question to be posed here is not “why have Jesus and Mary come to us through these quotidian household objects?” Rather, we should ask why these images are being seen; and, the concise answer is that they want to. These visions are a testament to the devout beliefs carried by some, at times causing a misinterpretation of images. For example, to me, pita Jesus looks a lot more like Davey Crocket with his coonskin cap. If you turn it sideways, it looks more like a hut with smoke coming out of the chimney. Likewise, the remaining lard in the frying pan resembles a soft-boiled egg when rotated 90 degrees.
These observations are not to pass judgment on those who have a much stronger faith than I, but rather to assert that our belief systems often create a powerful suggestive force that we have a hard time dismissing because these visions justify our life-choices and reaffirm to that we are trekking down the right path. In other words, people will view an object and see an image that they feel best represents them. Had the discoverer of Pita Jesus eaten his or her lunch without noticing the coonskin cap beard, would they have been swallowed by the Earth? Probably not, but it did allow the owner to turn around and sell it on Trademe.com. I’ll assume God got his share of the proceeds.
All this being said, films are often similar to these divine apparitions. At times, movies that receive acclaim from critics and layviewers alike make me wonder if people are seeing Jesus on toast because they feel it is expected of them. If they dismiss this movie, what does it say about them as a person? Does disliking this film equal bigotry? Racism? Xenophobia? What backlash might arise?
A fine example of this phenomenon is Crash, a movie that I have almost blocked completely from my mind because of its shallow, ambitious, non-sensical, sanctimonious view of itself; nevertheless, it remains the most requested movie on Netflix, and the average viewer on Rottentomatoes ranks it at 87%. The critics on the other hand have it at 75%, but it’s still quite high for this film. Without getting too far into the silliness that is Crash, it gives off a vibe that suggests to viewers: this movie should change your life, and if you don’t like it, then you are a bigot who only sees the world categorized into stereotypes. In reality, this movie isn’t eye-opening, and it’s not poignant. In fact, it’s hyperbolic and contradictory. You can’t open a movie with two thug-looking characters complaining about stereotypes and how white women fear them when they walk down the street, only to have them produce guns and rob someone. Prejudice also can’t be erased when someone falls down the stairs and the only person there to help them is the Hispanic maid. Fortuitous? Yes. But is the audience supposed to believe that this maid is the WASP’s “only friend”? Hardly, but at this point in time, the message being sent is “everyone is equal and should be seen as such.” Definitely noble, but illogically ideological.
The Kids Are All Right is a movie that has recently entered this category. Admittedly, it is much much better than Crash, and the cast is amazing. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are stellar as Nic and Jules, a lesbian couple who have each given birth to one child, bringing their family unit to four people. Bening is nuanced and controlled in every one of her movements. More often than not, her eyes convey her anger, sympathy, confusion, and suspicions. Her lines are not forced, and she moves fluidly through each scene. Like the character she plays, Bening maintains constant control but subtly enough not to overshadow her fellow cast members.
Moore’s turn as Jules is also a memorable one in that she harnesses anxiety and self-consciousness, allowing it to seep out in drips as opposed to fashioning a ball of kinetic energy. While Jules is vilified at the end (more on that later), she is the easiest to sympathize with because of her stymied wanderlust, initially acting on the family’s best interest rather than her own.
Mark Ruffalo also holds his own as the philandering restaurateur Paul, the sperm donor from twenty years prior that helped Nic and Jules produce their two children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Caught in the throes of middle age, Paul reflects on his current station when Mia contact him on her eighteenth birthday to see if he is willing to meet his two “offspring.”
As Rob Cotto mentioned in a previous post, The Kids Are All Right has the “ensemble cast of the year,” and I couldn’t agree more. They are superb.
At the same time, there are a number of issues with this film that equate it to Jesus on toast. In a way, this film reminds me of Brokeback Mountain, another film that gave us stellar performances from Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, and Jake Gyllenhall, but in the end, the film was perpetuated by its inclusion of male homosexuality as the primary plot device. The Kids Are All Right employs the same device, but this time, it’s not a novelty, so what we are left with – on both counts – are romantic dramas with stellar casts, but instead of heterosexuals with issues, we are offered homosexuals with issues. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it leads both films down a clichéd path.
The primary conflict in The Kids Are All Right is Nic and Jules’ relationship. Having been married for twenty years, they have fallen into their roles – Nic as the breadwinning, belittling, megalomaniacal, bordering on alcoholism, mama bear that needs to husband most everything in the relationship. Then we have Jules, the overshadowed, belittled, concerned, anxious partner who put her career on hold to take care of the children while Nic became a doctor. So, there’s nothing here – aside from gender – that differs from the parental dynamic in Ron Howard’s Parenthood.
Predictably, this conflict leads to infidelity, a trope used so often that we are desensitized to the socially-prescribed evil that adultery conjures. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that infidelity is “okay,” but to be honest, in film, it’s expected, and this infidelity feels forced and unnecessary, primarily because it occurs between Jules and Paul, which in itself briefly attempts to fashion a discourse on whether or not homosexuality is a choice or nature, but The Kids Are All Right isn’t brave enough to take this further and create controversy. Instead, homosexuality is treated as a capricious alternative rather than a lifestyle.
Honestly, the film would have had a greater impact if the infidelity was elided and the focus of the film remained a study of the family dynamic being threatened by an “interloper.” The same control issues could have come to the forefront, and Jules’ resentment and frustration could have boiled over when she takes Paul’s side when he gives the children advice. Instead, The Kids took the easy route and forced a clichéd conflict that ultimately obviates Nic of blame and vilifies Jules, which is rather absurd.
For the first two-thirds of the film, Nic is seen as a passive aggressive narcissist. When she and Jules have sex, Jules is under the covers, hidden from view, and unable to breathe while Nic watches homosexual male porn, essentially blocking out her partner entirely. Similarly, when Jules tells Nic about the truck she bought in order to start her landscaping business, Nic says Jules is “putting the cart before the horse,” to which Jules reminds her, “you’re always telling me to be proactive.” Here, we have Nic’s controlling nature conflicting with her duty to support her spouse, and this is a fine scene, but it still paints Nic in a negative light.
However, when Nic discovers that Jules is having an affair, somehow Jules is the pilloried. Every line written for Nic and every bitchy moment she had is obfuscated, allowing Jules to be the villain, which is another overused trope. The infidel is not always the villain. Quite frankly, the distance between these two characters almost justifies her infidelity as a sledgehammer to the relationship. However, it is not treated as such; instead, Jules becomes the bad guy, Nic was right all along – although she wasn’t – and Paul’s a slime bucket.
So, how does this movie rank at 94% on Rottentomatoes? Perhaps I’m a bigot or insensitive desensitized to anything that portends to be novel and shocking. Maybe all of the critics were taken in by the performances, which to be honest, are the only reason I didn’t shut the movie off. They are phenomenal, and if Bening takes home this year’s Best Actress Oscar over my favorite Natalite Portman, I won’t begrudge the nod. It’s definitely a close race. At the same time, the hype over this movie reminds me of Crash or A Beautiful Mind where our ideologies outweigh the content of the script.
DYL MAG Score: 6